Millions Of Americans May Soon Lose Their Jobs…To Their Trucks (Video)
Ever since The Jetsons brought the concept of flying cars into the homes of millions, the concept of futuristic forms of travel has become fodder for exploration in much popular culture. Today, we’ve got “hoverboards,” lightning-fast trains, and the driverless car. Though the car is not yet available on the retail market, companies like Google have suggested that by 2020, the autonomous personal vehicle will become a reality. In theory, much of the appeal of heading to work in our own cars without having to actually drive would free us up to do other things – perhaps finish even more work – but what about vehicles that serve much more valuable purposes? For example, what if delivery vehicles carrying freight across country could operate for many more hours by being operated by computers and robotics? That technology is too on the horizon, but it carries with it some pretty dire implications for the United States workforce.
“The driverless truck is coming, and it’s going to automate millions of jobs” is a TechCrunch report on the recent introduction of automated-driving technology in the trucking industry. The potential benefits are certainly attractive. Driverless trucks could potentially operate for 24-hours a day, whereas human drivers are legally required to take an 8-hour break for every 11 hours of driving. Furthermore, labor costs represent 75% of the money spent in the trucking industry, a percentage that would be greatly downsized if there were millions fewer people to whom paychecks were owed. Customers would feel the positive effects, too, as would everyday citizens on the road. As Ryan Petersen writes, “once the technology is mature enough to be rolled out commercially, we will also enjoy considerable safety benefits. This year alone more people will be killed in traffic accidents involving trucks than in all domestic airline crashes in the last 45 years combined.” However, the downside is even more prolific: nearly two-million Americans could be out of a job if our transportation and logistics industry gets “Jetson-ized.” According to the report, “[t]he loss of jobs representing 1 percent of the U.S. workforce will be a devastating blow to the economy. And the adverse consequences won’t end there. Gas stations, highway diners, rest stops, motels and other businesses catering to drivers will struggle to survive without them.”
Such reverberations aren’t unique to trucking; the Technological Revolution has set into motion a domino effect that society is just beginning to feel, as more and more factory workers are replaced with robotics. Even the grocery-store cashier has been steadily phased out in large numbers, thanks to automated check-out lanes. Bloomberg Business explored the topic in a video report which documents how the driverless truck functions and how the technology and humans can operate side-by-side, and the imagery is quite stunning (albeit also a bit ominous).
Some questions naturally arise when considering the implications of incorporating artificial intelligence and computerized systems into our transportation. For instance, what measures are being taken to prevent such systems from being hacked, whether by a sentient being or a runaway robot? At what point do we curtail our technological development and ongoing flirtation with artificial intelligence to save jobs? When does efficiency lose out to humanity?